Saxophonist and bandleader Karl Denson has logged in years of playing with musical luminaries like the Greyboy All-Stars, Lenny Kravitz and a little beat combo called the Rolling Stones, all the while crafting his own extensive discography. And circa 2019, all of these combined musical experiences are starting to show through in Denson's own music; his playing and vocal delivery is more lithe, powerful and sexy than ever. And though Karl Denson's Tiny Universe doesn't really deal in Jagger-esque swagger onstage, the band are an explosive experience in their own right.
Denson is rolling through town in a lead-up to the release of a new album, Gnomes and Badgers, due in March. The music, like his band, Tiny Universe, is densely populated with styles, players, licks, riffs and a cornucopia of musical ideas that he's been cultivating for decades.
Denson's sound walks a soulful line between jazz, funk and blues. For those who like some Sly Stone vibes in their rock, and maybe even some jam band flow in their jazz, Mr. Denson will more than accommodate.
Listening to this record, there's a recurring message about the national discourse going on today.
It's got a little bite to it. The idea was to make a blues/funk record about the relationships of people and how we communicate with each other. It's necessary right now with all that's going in the country and the world ... we need to talk a little bit more and listen a little bit better. That's really what Gnomes and Badgers is all about.
Where did the title come from?
The title was a throwaway from the Greyboy All-Stars; they didn't want to use it, and I loved that title and grabbed it. I thought it would a great vehicle for a dialogue for the right and the left. I then turned it into my own thing.
Mind if I ask which is the right and the left?
The gnomes are the right and badgers are the left; they could be either one.
The new album has a cover of the rare groove classic "Gossip" by Cyril Neville; are you going to nix it?
No, no, that one stays.
Good! That one is just as smokin' as the original. Another standout is "Change My Way," way cool. Hard wah-wah, deep drums and driving soul.
Well, thanks. "Change My Way" is one of my favorites on the album. It was inspired from a track by Black Merda, the psych-rock band. "Change My Way" is taking their brand of backwards funk and flipping it forward, and taking the chance to create some imbalance in the force ... that and writing it in my dreams.
So, when you come to town what are you all bringing? New tunes, old ones, covers?
Well, it's going to going to be a lot of us. A lot of everything ... I'm going to try to discard the covers, and start to cover myself, and our own music, and give it a new treatment. The band is really in a good place, and locked and loaded as far as our sound goes, and [I'm] teaching the band to be a little bit freer and more open and a little less jazzy, and a little more jam band-y.
The jam band ethic is a good move to make as far as concertgoers are concerned, and a great way to excite and reach out to them.
We tend to be more of the jazz guys on the jam band circuit. I'm trying to eliminate all the solos and see what happens every night.